Spring winked a vitreous optic at Editor Westbrook of the _Minerva
Magazine_, and deflected him from his course. He had lunched in his
favorite corner of a Broadway hotel, and was returning to his office
when his feet became entangled in the lure of the vernal coquette. Which
is by way of saying that he turned eastward in Twenty-sixth Street,
safely forded the spring freshet of vehicles in Fifth Avenue, and
meandered along the walks of budding Madison Square.
The lenient air and the settings of the little park almost formed a
pastoral; the color motif was green--the presiding shade at the creation
of man and vegetation.
The callow grass between the walks was the color of verdigris, a
poisonous green, reminiscent of the horde of derelict humans that had
breathed upon the soil during the summer and autumn. The bursting tree
buds looked strangely familiar to those who had botanized among the
garnishings of the fish course of a forty-cent dinner. The sky above
was of that pale aquamarine tint that ballroom poets rhyme with "true"
and "Sue" and "coo." The one natural and frank color visible was the
ostensible green of the newly painted benches--a shade between the color
of a pickled cucumber and that of a last year's fast-black cravenette
raincoat. But, to the city-bred eye of Editor Westbrook, the landscape
appeared a masterpiece.
And now, whether you are of those who rush in, or of the gentle
concourse that fears to tread, you must follow in a brief invasion of
the editor's mind.
Editor Westbrook's spirit was contented and serene. The April number of
the _Minerva_ had sold its entire edition before the tenth day of the
month--a newsdealer in Keokuk had written that he could have sold fifty
copies more if he had 'em. The owners of the magazine had raised his
(the editor's) salary; he had just installed in his home a jewel of a
recently imported cook who was afraid of policemen; and the morning
papers had published in full a speech he had made at a publishers'
banquet. Also there were echoing in his mind the jubilant notes of a
splendid song that his charming young wife had sung to him before he
left his up-town apartment that morning. She was taking enthusiastic
interest in her music of late, practising early and diligently. When
he had complimented her on the improvement in her voice she had fairly
hugged him for joy at his praise. He felt, too, the benign, tonic
medicament of the trained nurse, Spring, tripping softly adown the wards
of the convalescent city.
While Editor Westbrook was sauntering between the rows of park benches
(already filling with vagrants and the guardians of lawless childhood)
he felt his sleeve grasped and held. Suspecting that he was about to be
panhandled, he turned a cold and unprofitable face, and saw that his
captor was--Dawe--Shackleford Dawe, dingy, almost ragged, the genteel
scarcely visible in him through the deeper lines of the shabby.
While the editor is pulling himself out of his surprise, a flashlight
biography of Dawe is offered.
He was a fiction writer, and one of Westbrook's old acquaintances.
At one time they might have called each other old friends. Dawe had
some money in those days, and lived in a decent apartment house near
Westbrook's. The two families often went to theatres and dinners
together. Mrs. Dawe and Mrs. Westbrook became "dearest" friends.
Then one day a little tentacle of the octopus, just to amuse itself,
ingurgitated Dawe's capital, and he moved to the Gramercy Park
neighborhood where one, for a few groats per week, may sit upon one's
trunk under eight-branched chandeliers and opposite Carrara marble
mantels and watch the mice play upon the floor. Dawe thought to live
by writing fiction. Now and then he sold a story. He submitted many
to Westbrook. The _Minerva_ printed one or two of them; the rest were
returned. Westbrook sent a careful and conscientious personal letter
with each rejected manuscript, pointing out in detail his reasons
for considering it unavailable. Editor Westbrook had his own clear
conception of what constituted good fiction. So had Dawe. Mrs. Dawe was
mainly concerned about the constituents of the scanty dishes of food
that she managed to scrape together. One day Dawe had been spouting to
her about the excellencies of certain French writers. At dinner they sat
down to a dish that a hungry schoolboy could have encompassed at a gulp.
"It's Maupassant hash," said Mrs. Dawe. "It may not be art, but I do
wish you would do a five-course Marion Crawford serial with an Ella
Wheeler Wilcox sonnet for dessert. I'm hungry."
As far as this from success was Shackleford Dawe when he plucked Editor
Westbrook's sleeve in Madison Square. That was the first time the editor
had seen Dawe in several months.
"Why, Shack, is this you?" said Westbrook, somewhat awkwardly, for the
form of his phrase seemed to touch upon the other's changed appearance.
"Sit down for a minute," said Dawe, tugging at his sleeve. "This is my
office. I can't come to yours, looking as I do. Oh, sit down--you won't
be disgraced. Those half-plucked birds on the other benches will take
you for a swell porch-climber. They won't know you are only an editor."
"Smoke, Shack?" said Editor Westbrook, sinking cautiously upon the
virulent green bench. He always yielded gracefully when he did yield.
Dawe snapped at the cigar as a kingfisher darts at a sunperch, or a girl
pecks at a chocolate cream.
"I have just--" began the editor.
"Oh, I know; don't finish," said Dawe. "Give me a match. You have just
ten minutes to spare. How did you manage to get past my office-boy and
invade my sanctum? There he goes now, throwing his club at a dog that
couldn't read the 'Keep off the Grass' signs."
"How goes the writing?" asked the editor.
"Look at me," said Dawe, "for your answer. Now don't put on that
embarrassed, friendly-but-honest look and ask me why I don't get a job
as a wine agent or a cab driver. I'm in the fight to a finish. I know I
can write good fiction and I'll force you fellows to admit it yet. I'll
make you change the spelling of 'regrets' to 'c-h-e-q-u-e' before I'm
done with you."
Editor Westbrook gazed through his nose-glasses with a sweetly
sorrowful, omniscient, sympathetic, skeptical expression--the
copyrighted expression of the editor beleagured by the unavailable
"Have you read the last story I sent you--'The Alarum of the Soul'?"
"Carefully. I hesitated over that story, Shack, really I did. It had
some good points. I was writing you a letter to send with it when it
goes back to you. I regret--"
"Never mind the regrets," said Dawe, grimly. "There's neither salve nor
sting in 'em any more. What I want to know is _why_. Come now; out with
the good points first."
"The story," said Westbrook, deliberately, after a suppressed sigh, "is
written around an almost original plot. Characterization--the best you
have done. Construction--almost as good, except for a few weak joints
which might be strengthened by a few changes and touches. It was a good
"I can write English, can't I?" interrupted Dawe.
"I have always told you," said the editor, "that you had a style."
"Then the trouble is--"
"Same old thing," said Editor Westbrook. "You work up to your climax
like an artist. And then you turn yourself into a photographer. I don't
know what form of obstinate madness possesses you, but that is what you
do with everything that you write. No, I will retract the comparison
with the photographer. Now and then photography, in spite of its
impossible perspective, manages to record a fleeting glimpse of truth.
But you spoil every dénouement by those flat, drab, obliterating strokes
of your brush that I have so often complained of. If you would rise to
the literary pinnacle of your dramatic senses, and paint them in the
high colors that art requires, the postman would leave fewer bulky,
self-addressed envelopes at your door."
"Oh, fiddles and footlights!" cried Dawe, derisively. "You've got that
old sawmill drama kink in your brain yet. When the man with the black
mustache kidnaps golden-haired Bessie you are bound to have the mother
kneel and raise her hands in the spotlight and say: 'May high heaven
witness that I will rest neither night nor day till the heartless
villain that has stolen me child feels the weight of another's
Editor Westbrook conceded a smile of impervious complacency.
"I think," said he, "that in real life the woman would express herself
in those words or in very similar ones."
"Not in a six hundred nights' run anywhere but on the stage," said Dawe
hotly. "I'll tell you what she'd say in real life. She'd say: 'What!
Bessie led away by a strange man? Good Lord! It's one trouble after
another! Get my other hat, I must hurry around to the police-station.
Why wasn't somebody looking after her, I'd like to know? For God's sake,
get out of my way or I'll never get ready. Not that hat--the brown one
with the velvet bows. Bessie must have been crazy; she's usually shy of
strangers. Is that too much powder? Lordy! How I'm upset!'
"That's the way she'd talk," continued Dawe. "People in real life don't
fly into heroics and blank verse at emotional crises. They simply can't
do it. If they talk at all on such occasions they draw from the same
vocabulary that they use every day, and muddle up their words and ideas
a little more, that's all."
"Shack," said Editor Westbrook impressively, "did you ever pick up the
mangled and lifeless form of a child from under the fender of a street
car, and carry it in your arms and lay it down before the distracted
mother? Did you ever do that and listen to the words of grief and
despair as they flowed spontaneously from her lips?"
"I never did," said Dawe. "Did you?"
"Well, no," said Editor Westbrook, with a slight frown. "But I can well
imagine what she would say."
"So can I," said Dawe.
And now the fitting time had come for Editor Westbrook to play the
oracle and silence his opinionated contributor. It was not for an
unarrived fictionist to dictate words to be uttered by the heroes and
heroines of the _Minerva Magazine_, contrary to the theories of the
"My dear Shack," said he, "if I know anything of life I know that every
sudden, deep and tragic emotion in the human heart calls forth an
apposite, concordant, conformable and proportionate expression of
feeling. How much of this inevitable accord between expression and
feeling should be attributed to nature, and how much to the influence of
art, it would be difficult to say. The sublimely terrible roar of the
lioness that has been deprived of her cubs is dramatically as far above
her customary whine and purr as the kingly and transcendent utterances
of Lear are above the level of his senile vaporings. But it is also true
that all men and women have what may be called a sub-conscious dramatic
sense that is awakened by a sufficiently deep and powerful emotion--a
sense unconsciously acquired from literature and the stage that prompts
them to express those emotions in language befitting their importance
and histrionic value."
"And in the name of the seven sacred saddle-blankets of Sagittarius,
where did the stage and literature get the stunt?" asked Dawe.
"From life," answered the editor, triumphantly.
The story writer rose from the bench and gesticulated eloquently but
dumbly. He was beggared for words with which to formulate adequately his
On a bench nearby a frowzy loafer opened his red eyes and perceived that
his moral support was due a downtrodden brother.
"Punch him one, Jack," he called hoarsely to Dawe. "W'at's he come
makin' a noise like a penny arcade for amongst gen'lemen that comes in
the square to set and think?"
Editor Westbrook looked at his watch with an affected show of leisure.
"Tell me," asked Dawe, with truculent anxiety, "what especial faults in
'The Alarum of the Soul' caused you to throw it down?"
"When Gabriel Murray," said Westbrook, "goes to his telephone and is
told that his fiancée has been shot by a burglar, he says--I do not
recall the exact words, but--"
"I do," said Dawe. "He says: 'Damn Central; she always cuts me off.'
(And then to his friend) 'Say, Tommy, does a thirty-two bullet make a
big hole? It's kind of hard luck, ain't it? Could you get me a drink
from the sideboard, Tommy? No; straight; nothing on the side.'"
"And again," continued the editor, without pausing for argument, "when
Berenice opens the letter from her husband informing her that he has
fled with the manicure girl, her words are--let me see--"
"She says," interposed the author: "'Well, what do you think of that!'"
"Absurdly inappropriate words," said Westbrook, "presenting an
anti-climax--plunging the story into hopeless bathos. Worse yet; they
mirror life falsely. No human being ever uttered banal colloquialisms
when confronted by sudden tragedy."
"Wrong," said Dawe, closing his unshaven jaws doggedly. "I say no man
or woman ever spouts 'high-falutin' talk when they go up against a real
climax. They talk naturally and a little worse."
The editor rose from the bench with his air of indulgence and inside
"Say, Westbrook," said Dawe, pinning him by the lapel, "would you have
accepted 'The Alarum of the Soul' if you had believed that the actions
and words of the characters were true to life in the parts of the story
that we discussed?"
"It is very likely that I would, if I believed that way," said the
editor. "But I have explained to you that I do not."
"If I could prove to you that I am right?"
"I'm sorry, Shack, but I'm afraid I haven't time to argue any further
"I don't want to argue," said Dawe. "I want to demonstrate to you from
life itself that my view is the correct one."
"How could you do that?" asked Westbrook, in a surprised tone.
"Listen," said the writer, seriously. "I have thought of a way. It is
important to me that my theory of true-to-life fiction be recognized as
correct by the magazines. I've fought for it for three years, and I'm
down to my last dollar, with two months' rent due."
"I have applied the opposite of your theory," said the editor, "in
selecting the fiction for the _Minerva Magazine_. The circulation has
gone up from ninety thousand to--"
"Four hundred thousand," said Dawe. "Whereas it should have been boosted
to a million."
"You said something to me just now about demonstrating your pet theory."
"I will. If you'll give me about half an hour of your time I'll prove to
you that I am right. I'll prove it by Louise."
"Your wife!" exclaimed Westbrook. "How?"
"Well, not exactly by her, but _with_ her," said Dawe. "Now, you know
how devoted and loving Louise has always been. She thinks I'm the only
genuine preparation on the market that bears the old doctor's signature.
She's been fonder and more faithful than ever, since I've been cast for
the neglected genius part."
"Indeed, she is a charming and admirable life companion," agreed the
editor. "I remember what inseparable friends she and Mrs. Westbrook once
were. We are both lucky chaps, Shack, to have such wives. You must bring
Mrs. Dawe up some evening soon, and we'll have one of those informal
chafing-dish suppers that we used to enjoy so much."
"Later," said Dawe. "When I get another shirt. And now I'll tell you my
scheme. When I was about to leave home after breakfast--if you can call
tea and oatmeal breakfast--Louise told me she was going to visit her
aunt in Eighty-ninth Street. She said she would return at three o'clock.
She is always on time to a minute. It is now--"
Dawe glanced toward the editor's watch pocket.
"Twenty-seven minutes to three," said Westbrook, scanning his
"We have just enough time," said Dawe. "We will go to my flat at once. I
will write a note, address it to her and leave it on the table where she
will see it as she enters the door. You and I will be in the dining-room
concealed by the portières. In that note I'll say that I have fled from
her forever with an affinity who understands the needs of my artistic
soul as she never did. When she reads it we will observe her actions and
hear her words. Then we will know which theory is the correct one--yours
"Oh, never!" exclaimed the editor, shaking his head. "That would be
inexcusably cruel. I could not consent to have Mrs. Dawe's feelings
played upon in such a manner."
"Brace up," said the writer. "I guess I think as much of her as you do.
It's for her benefit as well as mine. I've got to get a market for my
stories in some way. It won't hurt Louise. She's healthy and sound. Her
heart goes as strong as a ninety-eight-cent watch. It'll last for only a
minute, and then I'll step out and explain to her. You really owe it to
me to give me the chance, Westbrook."
Editor Westbrook at length yielded, though but half willingly. And in
the half of him that consented lurked the vivisectionist that is in all
of us. Let him who has not used the scalpel rise and stand in his place.
Pity 'tis that there are not enough rabbits and guinea-pigs to go
The two experimenters in Art left the Square and hurried eastward and
then to the south until they arrived in the Gramercy neighborhood.
Within its high iron railings the little park had put on its smart coat
of vernal green, and was admiring itself in its fountain mirror. Outside
the railings the hollow square of crumbling houses, shells of a bygone
gentry, leaned as if in ghostly gossip over the forgotten doings of the
vanished quality. _Sic transit gloria urbis_.
A block or two north of the Park, Dawe steered the editor again
eastward, then, after covering a short distance, into a lofty but narrow
flathouse burdened with a floridly over-decorated façade. To the fifth
story they toiled, and Dawe, panting, pushed his latch-key into the door
of one of the front flats.
When the door opened Editor Westbrook saw, with feelings of pity, how
meanly and meagerly the rooms were furnished.
"Get a chair, if you can find one," said Dawe, "while I hunt up pen and
ink. Hello, what's this? Here's a note from Louise. She must have left
it there when she went out this morning."
He picked up an envelope that lay on the centre-table and tore it open.
He began to read the letter that he drew out of it; and once having
begun it aloud he so read it through to the end. These are the words
that Editor Westbrook heard:
"By the time you get this I will be about a hundred miles away and
still a-going. I've got a place in the chorus of the Occidental
Opera Co., and we start on the road to-day at twelve o'clock. I
didn't want to starve to death, and so I decided to make my own
living. I'm not coming back. Mrs. Westbrook is going with me. She
said she was tired of living with a combination phonograph, iceberg
and dictionary, and she's not coming back, either. We've been
practising the songs and dances for two months on the quiet. I hope
you will be successful, and get along all right! Good-bye.
Dawe dropped the letter, covered his face with his trembling hands, and
cried out in a deep, vibrating voice:
_"My God, why hast thou given me this cup to drink? Since she is false,
then let Thy Heaven's fairest gifts, faith and love, become the jesting
by-words of traitors and fiends!"_
Editor Westbrook's glasses fell to the floor. The fingers of one hand
fumbled with a button on his coat as he blurted between his pale lips:
_"Say, Shack, ain't that a hell of a note? Wouldn't that knock you off
your perch, Shack? Ain't it hell, now, Shack--ain't it?"_